- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa — The stars of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race spent their final full day of pre-caucus campaigning crisscrossing Iowa and delivering closing arguments that they hope will resonate enough to earn them one of the fabled “three tickets” out of the state.

The concluding remarks, sharpened over months and months of campaigning, encapsulated the ongoing ideological and generational tug of war over the direction of the Democratic Party and the best approach to defeating President Trump.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden said there’s not going to be any time for “on-the-job training” and that the country needs a president who is ready on “day one.”

“The next president is going to inherit a country divided and a world in disarray,” Mr. Biden said, speaking to a crowd of about 1,100 at a middle school in Des Moines.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont said that since Jan. 1, his volunteers have knocked on 500,000 doors in Iowa and made more than 10 million phone calls.

“The only way we defeat Donald Trump — the most dangerous president in modern American history … is when we have the largest voter turnout that this country has ever seen,” Mr. Sanders told supporters gathered at an office in Newton.

Mr. Sanders’ campaign said that his Saturday evening rally with the pop band Vampire Weekend in Cedar Rapids drew about 3,000 people and that it was the largest rally any Democratic presidential candidate has held in Iowa during the 2020 cycle.

More than 2,000 people turned out to catch former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a high school in Des Moines, where he urged them “turn the page” and warned against “falling back on the familiar” to meet the challenges of the future.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of supporters at Simpson College about 30 minutes south of Des Moines, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said it is time for “big structural” change and “not the time for small ideas.”

“This is not the time to see these big problems and just nibble around the edges,” Ms. Warren said at the event, which attracted 1,100 people, according to the campaign. “This is the time to come up with the big solutions and get out there and fight for them.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former nonprofit executive Andrew Yang and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer also barnstormed the state.

The outcome from Monday’s caucuses will set the table for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 11 and provide key insights into the breadth of their appeal and the organizational strengths of their campaigns.

Ms. Warren could have more riding on a top-three finish than any of the contenders.

She has slipped in the polls since leading the pack in October, sparking concerns among her supporters and speculation from political observers that a poor showing here could mark the beginning of the end for her once high-flying campaign.

“She doesn’t have a super PAC, so she is totally reliant on how her donors react to the results Monday,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based strategist. “To get that base excited, she probably needs to finish ahead of [Sen. Bernard Sanders].”

That is shaping up to be a tall task.

Mr. Sanders has raised more money than any of his rivals and has been coming on strong in the polls, which show him sitting atop the field.

Heading into caucus night, Mr. Sanders held about a 25% to 20% lead over Mr. Biden, his closest rival, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, while Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren were fighting for third place.

Mr. Link said that Mr. Buttigieg has to be pleased with his situation.

“If you were to say to Pete Buttigieg a year ago, ‘Would you be OK with finish in the top three in Iowa?’ he would have chuckled and said, ‘Oh yeah,’ ” Mr. Link said. “He does need to build momentum going into Nevada and South Carolina and momentum is the best antidote for that.”

Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, wants to show his near-victory here four years ago was no fluke and that the polls are reliable barometers of public opinion.

“For Bernie, the unlikely result of a second-place finish I think would be seen as a collapse,” said Chris Budzisz, a political science professor at Loras College in Dubuque. “Not fatal, but a real collapse.”

“I suspect that we are going to see Sanders over-perform his current polling numbers and also do well in the delegate race here,” he said.

Turning to Mr. Biden, Mr. Budzisz said, “anything beyond a third-place finish would be a problem.”

“If Buttigieg, Warren, or Klobuchar pass him by that would be a huge boost for any of them, and will diminish Biden,” he said. “Of those three, I think Buttigieg is the most likely to pass him, but that won’t happen if Klobuchar comes up short in terms of viability.”

Indeed, Mr. Biden’s fortunes here could be directly tied to Ms. Klobuchar’s falling flat because polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that a good number of her backers would swing their support behind Mr. Biden.

Ms. Klobuchar embraced the role of an underdog during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids.

“There were some pundits that predicted when I started that speech in the middle of the Mississippi River in a blizzard that I would never make it to the end of the speech,” she said.

A major Biden donor, meanwhile, downplayed the idea that Mr. Biden could struggle to recover from a lackluster outing here.

“Whether he comes in first, second or third place in Iowa, it doesn’t affect him at all,” the donor said, and downplayed what a fourth-place finish would mean. “Honestly, as far as the donors and the bundlers, it has no impact.”

• S.A. Miller contributed to this report from Washington.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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